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Life on Mars

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  7,228 ratings  ·  837 reviews
You lie there kicking like a baby, waiting for God himself
To lift you past the rungs of your crib. What
Would your life say if it could talk? 

                                                           —from “No Fly Zone”

With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures, and o
Paperback, 75 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Graywolf Press (first published April 26th 2011)
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For 2017 I have set a goal for myself to read a minimum of twenty Pulitzer winners across all platforms. Upon hearing that Tracy K Smith had been named the United States poet laureate for the next year, I decided to read her 2012 Pulitzer winning collection Life on Mars. In poetry that is a mix of free verse, prose, letters, and songs, Smith delivers powerful words in a four part opus.

Three poems stood out in this collection. The first, The Speed of Belief, pays homage to Smith's late father. W
J.L.   Sutton
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"When the storm
Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing
After all we're certain to lose, so alive ---
Faces radiant with panic.”

Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars is a fantastic collection of poems that explores a wide variety of issues: grief, illness, pop culture, the weather and David Bowie. What drew me in further was how Smith linked her poems through space and science fiction imagery to question who we are and what we are doing at this moment. Sometimes, I felt like I was exploring the depth
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding book of poetry. There's a real narrative quality to many of the poems and I particularly appreciated the breadth of topics Smith engages with in her poetry. Some of the strongest poems are those that deal with current events. There's a strong sense of accessibility in that...these are the kind of poems that are meant to be read and understood and appreciated. Some moments are simply breathtaking. She uses the word gracile, which is a lovely, lovely word. The whole collection is mi ...more
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, poetry
Divided into four short sections, Life on Mars roams amongst a vast range of subjects: the cultural impact of David Bowie, the serenity of late spring mornings, the death of Smith's own father, the horror of racialized killings. Smith's interest in narrative and in pop culture links the disparate poems together, though, as does her crystalline imagery. Favorite poems included "The Speed of Belief" and "Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?" ...more
Whitney Atkinson
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2018
I wanted to love this wholeheartedly, but it straddled the line between "Oh, that's pretty!" and "What did I just read?" I forgot to mark this on Goodreads so it's been about a week since I've read it, and I honestly couldn't even give you a synopsis of what these poems were about because I think their message was a little lost on me, but I did mark several lines and poems I enjoyed, so I'm glad I picked it up. ...more
Mar 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021, poetry-plays
I didn’t want to believe
What we believe in those rooms:
That we are blessed, letting go,
Letting someone, anyone,
Drag open the drapes and heave us
Back into our blinding, bright lives.

Review to follow.
Julie Ehlers
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, free-library
This was great. My favorite was the one about Bowie ("Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?"), but I loved the set of poems about her father, and the way she kept using outer-space imagery and themes. When she was named Poet Laureate, I immediately took this out of the library and inhaled it, but I can see myself getting my own copy and rereading it someday. ...more
Jun 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: rumpus
I was really torn about whether to give this three or four stars. The poems I liked I REALLY REALLY liked and these included Savior Machine, My God It's Full of Stars, Life on Mars (the title poem) and They May Love All That He Has Chosen and Hate All He Has Rejected. But other times I would be reading one of the poems in this collection and it was almost like my eyes would slide right off of it, like there was an obliqueness there that I couldn't get through. Nothing to hang onto in some poems. ...more
Not wall-to-wall winners, but a damned interesting mix of styles and moods and words, all built around the theme of space and a departed dad (her father worked on the Hubble telescope).

Pulitzer prize-winning poetry. Triple P. And I shared multiple poems from the text on my blah, blah, blog starting down this here rabbit hole and moving forward two or three posts, chronologically.
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow. That was a beautiful collection.

My favorites:
- The Universe is a House Party
- Museum of Obsolescence
- Aubade
- US & CO.
James Murphy
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Tracy Smith has written a volume of poetry touching on a favorite theme of mine, life on earth which requires one to stand and let imagination vault into the meaningless distances of outer space. Her book is ultimately about love, I think, concerned as it is with her father who famously worked as an engineer on the Hubble Telescope project. Her poetry here connects the closeness of earth with the reaches of space her father made it possible to see. In that way Smith can be thought of as life on ...more
Eliza Barry
Mar 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: poetry
I had a really hard time with this collection. I really wanted to like it. And if it hadn't received a Pulitzer, I would not have judged it so harshly, but, because I expect quality and a respect for the macrocosm of poetry from Pulitzer-prize-winning poetry and poets, I approached this collection with high expectations. I was deeply disappointed.

Tracy Smith does have a certain innocence and wonder for life that is touching, and she asks probing questions, but her observations are too generaliz
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I listened (read by the author) to this book, and there were some beautiful poems in this volume. I think I will need to read these, though, to get a better appreciation for the author's word choices and emotions. ...more
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
US & CO.

We are here for what amounts to a few hours,

a day at most.

We feel around making sense of the terrain,

our own new limbs,

Bumping up against a herd of bodies

until one becomes home.

Moments sweep past. The grass bends

then learns again to stand.
Nov 02, 2015 added it
Interesting concept -- poetry about or inspired by science fiction.
Overall I found the ideas more impressive than the aesthetic qualities of the poems themselves.
In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, then goes liquid,
Paint-in-water, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on a
Matthew Mousseau
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Matthew by: Chaneli
Shelves: poetry
The collection is divided into four parts. A poem, "The Weather in Space", precedes the first part in the form of a prelude. Indeed, the prelude poem is more closely related to the first part than to any other part...
Is God being or pure force? The wind

Or what commands it? When our lives slow

And we can hold all that we love, it sprawls

In our laps like a gangly doll. When the storm

Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing

After all we're certain to lose, so alive -

Faces radiant with panic.
- The
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A group of poems, many overtly political, that stand on their own as poetry as well (for the most part). One particularly moving section has people who have been killed writing letters from the beyond to their murderers.
Liz Janet
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it
"Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go
It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know
He's in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?"

-Life on Mars, David Bowie.

I choose that song over any of these poems any day, but that does not detract from my enjoyment of the poems presented in this collection.

The future isn't what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the
Nov 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2011
Will have to come back to this one. I know it's been highly lauded, but . . . It didn't do it for me. Though there were a few poems I really liked. Could be me. I should come back with a more open mind. ...more
"Everything that disappears/Disappears as if returning somewhere." (from the poem "The Universe: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack")

Riveting and heartfelt poems involving relationships, space, David Bowie, dark matter, and the afterlife. This book has been on my to-read list for a few years now, and I am grateful that I finally got around to it.


"The Weather in Space"
"Cathedral Kitsch"
"The Largeness We Can't See"
"The Soul"
Sep 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,
Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to imagine
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,
Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best
While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw."

—My God, It's Full Of Stars

For every book
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So, I’m not a big fan of poetry because it typically goes over my head. However, there are some that have recently caught my attention due to either social media or personal recommendations. I learned about Tracy K. Smith last December when a friend shared her memoir with me. Upon looking her up, I discovered that Tracy K. Smith is the US Poet Laureate (I didn’t even know that was a thing!), and that she had published some poetry collections. I then decided to begin with Life On Mars, which won ...more
Lost Planet Airman
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Whew. This is excellent, thought-provoking poetry. And that makes it too much for me -- it takes way to much processing power to pour over the layers -- deep layers -- of meaning in each poem. But they are beautiful (although I prefer rhyme as well as scansion) and meaningful and even occasionally fun. Highly recommended to the poetry aficionado.
Rachel (Kalanadi)
This was good, but I am currently really bad at appreciating poetry. So, I will happily revisit this after a little poetry education regimen.
Kenton Yee
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith is a poetry collection. Like Smith's prose memoir Ordinary Light, Life is about her still-young life. Section 1 is about youth; 2, her NASA-engineer father; 3, the world and her community; and 4, her adult life. I like the poems in section 1 best, for it's in this section that she lays out her theory of the universe and admiration for David Bowie. This section also has more of the longer and "spacier" poems-the ones she apparently spent more time on. My favorite po ...more
Jun 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sci fi fans, poetry fans
Recommended to Johnny by: Max Goldfarb
Shelves: poetry, sf
Sci-Fi poetry? Yes, please!

I really enjoyed this collection in two different modes: Pt. 1, the 'sci-fi' part, is a blast to read. Playful and sincere and deepdark like the universe and awash in pop culture. The dad opus in part 2 destroys hearts. The whole collection is unguarded, and that's where the gold is.

I also l-o-v-e-d "Savior Machine", with:

I spent two years not looking
Into the mirror in his office.
Talking, instead, into my hands
Or a pillow in my lap. Glancing up
Occassionally to let out
May 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to BookChampions by: Tess
For my first run-through (books of poetry always deserve multiple readings), I was very impressed with this award-winning collection of poetry. The most notable facet of these poems is its utterly perfect rhythm. It was impossible for me to read this book silently. Every word wanted to be read aloud; so as I spat out sentence after sentence, Smith seemed to be proving just how well she understand the English language. These poems were at turns punchy and reflective, but every one left me startle ...more
John Tintera
Oct 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I heard about this book of all places on NPR's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. The author was interviewed by Tom who absolutely gushed about it. Tracy K. Smith is a very good poet--she has a mystical sensibility despite her seeming adherence to a "positivism." Much of the verse centers on the recent death of her father, who was a scientist best known for his work on the Hubble Telescope. There are some very moving passages and beautiful turns of phrase, marred only here and there by the impenetrab ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Wonderful collection of poems, weaving in and out of family history, science fiction, a serious Bowie obsession, and the tragedy of racialised killings.
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Reading Women: 13) A Poetry Collection by a Black Woman 38 714 Sep 07, 2021 02:52PM  

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Tracy K. Smith is the author of Wade in the Water; Life on Mars, winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award; and The Body’s Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also the editor of an anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, and the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. From 2017 to 2019, ...more

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